Analysis: Bali response is dangerously naive

AMS Staff

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Shoddy media analysis has proliferated in recent weeks, erasing the huge difference between those people who believe in religious truth and those who endorse violence to establish a worldwide theocracy. All such ‘fundamentalists’, say pundits, are dangerous. In the past month alone, evangelical Anglicans have been labeled ‘the Taliban wing of the Church of England’ (The Guardian), driven by the same factors as terrorists (SMH) and described as a threat to liberal-democracy (The Bulletin). The danger is that these wrong conclusions about the nature of the terrorist threat will result in off-target responses such as laws to limit religious freedom.

by Jeremy Halcrow

The government’s jingoistic appeal to unity will not help Australians defend themselves against Islamicism.

Thousand grieve in Sydney’s Cathedral’ was the extraordinarily telling SMH headline reporting the ‘Australians Together’ ceremony for the Bali bombing held in the Domain on Sunday, October 20.

So it has come to this. Formal religion is so irrelevant, so vexed, that the public flocks to a city playing field – past suburban churches preaching healing words of the forgiveness, grace and love found in Christ – to grasp the government’s official antidote: an injection of enforced pluralism to inoculate against religious extremism.

Why has this happened?

The ceremony opened with an acceptable dose of Christianity as Amazing Grace was led by John Farnham. It ended with a Hindu purification ceremony, culminating with mourners placing flowers in a water-filled shrine. In between were one sentence cribs from the Christian, Jewish and Muslim Scriptures, reinforcing the State-sponsored propaganda that all religions are the same.

John Cleary, the ABC’s religion reporter, criticised the government’s Australians Together campaign for being little more than a ‘vacuous’ attempt to dress the community’s very deep wounds with a jingoistic appeal to unity. By ignoring the truly deep and difficult questions over ‘Who is God?’, ‘How has he revealed himself?’ and ‘What does that mean for human society?’ that lie at the very heart of the terrorists’ campaign, you can only have a ‘somewhere over the rainbow’ answer to their ideological critique of the West.

While Cleary accurately depicts Australians Together as a placebo, not a cure, it’s too easy to stop there. The campaign fulfills a legitimate need to find meaning in the tragic death of so many. It is an attempt – albeit shallow, hopeless and ultimately dangerous in its naivety – to address important questions, ‘What is it about our values that makes terrorists want to kill us?’ and ‘What beliefs do Australians share as a source of strength in the face of such attack?’

The Australian’s Angela Shanahan put the problem this way: “Australians are stridently secular and completely uncom-prehending in the face of deep belief… But we are being forced to ask what values are worth getting blown up for in an age when we have chucked the primary vehicle by which we defined those values – religion.”

Much secular media comment in the weeks after the bombing attempted to grapple with this very issue. Most could only fall back on the Gallipoli myth of mateship. The victims of the Bali bombing became ‘the fallen’, ‘courageous’, ‘heroic adventurers’ – a view articulated heart-wrenchingly by Peter Fitzsimons in the


“As passionate Australian sportspeople, they were individuals who led, in their own fashion, full and colourful lives which embraced an ethos of camaraderie, a love of club and belief in team values. The fact that they headed to Bali and were in those nightclubs is also testimony that they had a great sense of fun. It is outrageously unfair and wrong that their embrace of such values had placed them in the position where they were exposed to the unspeakably evil designs of those whose approach to life was at the exact opposite end of the spectrum.”

But what Fitzsimons presents is a reaction, not a response. His bewildered sense of pain only points to the empty hole that Bali blasted in the centre of the average Aussie’s soul.

Australians lack the resources to talk honestly about God, as they must do if they are to recover from this attack, let alone defend themselves in a war against Islamicism. Here’s the rub: many Christian leaders are at fault for infecting this gaping spiritual wound, for inflating the godless vacuum filled so pathetically by Australians Together.

The Anglican Primate, Archbishop Carnley, responded to Bali with an inaccurate and ill-conceived chastisement of the government for ‘supporting’ a war on Iraq. This at a time when Australians desperately need assurance they can trust the values underpinning their liberal-democracy and want ethical advice to assess the call to fight against other people’s religious beliefs.

“Surely the Anglican Primate’s main concern should be spiritual guidance in an age crying out for spiritual guidance, in a nation that has suffered death, loss and great spiritual trauma,” said Angela Shanahan.

Australians Together offers utterly misguided answers to a desperate theological need. It is time church leaders fulfilled their vows and presented the compelling alternative found in Christ.